Collaboration: The New Duct Tape Part 2
Thomas M Cagley Jr.

For all of the good points of collaboration there can be drawbacks. I would like to highlight four of the most prevalent in an attempt to immunize your collaborative efforts from failure.

The first potential issue is speed. Collaboration can deliver slower than other problem resolution techniques. Why? In any type of team effort, you need to balance multiple points of view which means collaboration can be slower than a single stroke of genius or insight. The need to balance multiple points of view will require spending the time and effort needed to hear and understand all parties. When using collaboration techniques I strongly suggest monitoring against analysis paralysis to ensure decisions and interactions are focused on being efficient. A sweat test (e.g. set a specific amount of time for considering options) can be used to decide on a cutoff when a team can’t coalesce.

A second potential issue stemming from the same root is the potential for a watered down solution being delivered. The process of coalescing on a solution based on multiple points of view might mean that the solution is more than the sum of the parts or watered down due to compromise. One rule to remember is that all parties don’t have to agree with the solution you deliver but rather be able to live with the solution. It has been said that the camel is a horse designed by committee (or vice versa). One important mechanism to use to keep the team focused is to make sure the goal is crystal clear. Ensure the expectations for results have been defined to ensure the team hits the mark and has a yardstick to judge the solution the put forward. Developing an under optimized solution is a failure.

Teams can become stale. One indication of a staleness is a team exhibiting the “all problems are a nail if you have a hammer syndrome”. In other words a team that constantly reuses the same set of solutions rather than innovating. Constant investment in bringing new ideas, concepts and experiences to the team is required to ensure the possibility of delivering new and innovative solutions. The word investment does not necessarily mean spending money; rather many times it means the investment of time for learning or exposure. Building an environment of continuous exploration and learning is critical for long-term health of the collaborative team. Stagnation is the single largest reason for collaborations to fail over time. Stale is bad whether you are dealing with potato chips or teams.

Strong personalities are a requirement for leaders of all types. Collaborative teams must embrace strong personalities but not at the expense of allowing the strong personalities to drown out or overwhelm all other inputs. I suggest that all teams be trained in moderation and that the team set expectations for collaboration. Teams with a single voice are not collaborative.

Most of the drawbacks are not inherent in collaborative techniques rather the drawbacks tend to surface when collaboration is done poorly or incorrectly.

Part 3: “What makes collaboration work?”